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viernes, 26 de abril 2019
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Good News for the Fight against Dengue

Recent laboratory tests showed that 90 percent of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes released in the municipality of Bello, Colombia, are unable to transmit diseases such as dengue, Zika and chikungunya.

This dengue prevention and control strategy is part of a project led by the Program for the Study and Control of Tropical Diseases at Universidad de Antioquia (PECET), with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the US government, the government of the United Kingdom, the Wellcome Trust (a biomedical research charity based in London) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For 21 weeks, PECET researchers released a batch of lab-grown Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia pipientis bacteria in the municipality of Bello, Colombia. As a result, Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes mated with wild female mosquitoes thus transmitting the bacterium to the insect population. The project has already been successfully implemented in Australia by the Eliminate Dengue Program led by Monash University.   

The pilot trial proved successful as 90 percent of the infected mosquitoes are unable to transmit dengue fever.  These are good news for the nearly 40,000 inhabitants of this neighborhood where 1171 dengue cases have occurred in 2016.

In addition to transmitting Wolbachia to mosquitoes, PECET researchers also aimed to know the community’s response to this dengue control and prevention method. In fact, this was one of the most important challenges posed by the program staff in 2014 when the program was launched. “We are now confident that Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes can’t transmit dengue fever”, the researchers said.

The project also aims to measure the capability of the University labs to produce genetically modified mosquitoes. “Our goal is to produce millions of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in order to help more people. What we intend to do is to effectively control the disease,” said Dr. Ivan Velez, director of PECET.     

PECET researchers are making efforts to expand the project to other areas of the city with high incidence of dengue. On the other hand, a coalition between the US government, the government of the United Kingdom, Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it will commit $15 million to expand the project throughout the department of Antioquia, Colombia. Starting in early 2017, the project will expand, with additional funding of $3 million, its field trials in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Photo: The Paris neighborhood is located within the municipality of Bello, northwest of Medellín, Colombia. This area has a high incidence of dengue fever.

Despite the fact that infected mosquitoes can’t transmit the disease, official figures of dengue reduction have not been released to date. However, PECET researchers estimate that 90 percent of the infected mosquitoes became unable to transmit dengue after analyzing a number of eggs and mosquitoes in the laboratory.

Each year an estimated 390 million dengue infections occur around the world. Colombia has one of the highest rates of dengue cases in Latin America because its climate has the optimal conditions for the Aedes aegypti mosquito to survive. In addition, other factors such as poverty, the lack of drugs to prevent dengue transmission, and human movement, may favor the spread of the disease.

The town of Bello, a municipality located on the outskirts of Medellín, Colombia, has a high incidence of dengue cases, which increases the chance that people from nearby municipalities get infected with the disease due to human movement, since many Bello residents work in Medellín and other nearby areas. 7897 cases of dengue have been reported in Medellín so far in 2016.

“The situation is quite alarming and in the coming days, we may face a serious epidemic of dengue. Although the Ministry of Health invests billions of pesos in anti-dengue campaigns, efforts seem to be insufficient to stop the disease,” Dr. Velez said.   

Therefore, PECET and Monash University have teamed up to implement a biological control of dengue program which seems to be the most effective strategy to reduce the spread of the disease.  

Photo: The results were revealed to the local community at a press conference organized by PECET

“This dengue control program seems to be quite promising for preventing transmission, but further evidence is needed to confirm these claims,” Dr. Velez said. Epidemiological changes in dengue infection will be determined after analyzing the results from releasing a batch of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in an area with a population of more than 500,000 inhabitants, he said. Therefore, it is imperative to expand the program to other areas of the city due to human movement and the fact that mosquitoes feed during the daytime.      

According to a press release WHO urges innovative and effective strategies for controlling vector-borne diseases. PAHO/WHO provides support to expand pilot trials on the use of vector control methods such as Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes and genetically modified mosquitoes.    

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